Hydroponics Container Vs Soil Container

saoodhashimFebruary 12, 2014

I was just researching Hydroponics and one thing that I noticed over there was that the size of the roots are not so big but properly grown hydroponically, the plants are much more productive. The reason that the pro-hydroponics give is that because the roots get whatever they need, water, food and air without any effort and therefore all the energy goes into the visible portion and therefore the pot sizes can also be small

With soil based pots, it is always recommended that the bigger the better because deeper and more roots are better and they will promote more visible growth and deep watering is recommended.

The question that comes to the mind if soil based pots are provided with similar care as provided under hydroponics, cant we get similar growth in a small container? Perhaps container gardeners dont have the time to give care manually. But just in case they do have, can we grow plants with similar results as hydroponics in smaller pots (and therefore lesser potting soil - which is an expensive part of container gardening)?

Appreciate your inputs

Saood

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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

The 5-1-1/Gritty mixes advocated in this forum are much closer structurally and functionally to hydro than traditional soil-based gardening.

The answer is yes, as long as we're religious with the repotting (and accompanying root pruning) and very mindful the air/water/nutrient requirements in a potting environment that has less margin for error. Large plants can get by in amazingly small containers (relatively) if their caretakers are mindful, experienced and savvy.

This all said, the above won't make any difference if the plant is too top-heavy and keeps flopping over due to lack of an adequate root foundation to keep it upright. Staking may or may not work in these instances.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 1:37PM
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saoodhashim

Repotting?
Perhaps you are referring to perennials. Not to the annuals?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 1:43PM
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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

Yep. What are you talking about?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 2:46PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

iirc saood has been growing vegetables.

saood,what do you mean by soil based? soil as in something that is mainly organic and moisture retentive like peat, or soil as in something that you dug up out of your yard? Are the nutrients coming from the irrigation water or the breakdown of organic matter like manure in the container?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 9:53PM
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saoodhashim

Thanks nil13 for clarifying it.

Soil as in both. I am referring to container gardening whether done through potting soil and fed by irrigation water or through normal yard dug up soil and fed by manure etc.

and contrasting it with hydroponically grown vegetables.

Actually I saw one post where this guy had those 5 gallon hydroponic dutch buckets filled with the inert medium perlite and fertigated manually thrice a day and got great results for both tomatoes and cucumbers - which are large plants. He showed the root size and they very very fibrous and therefore too many but the overall size of the roots was very small compared to the normal container grown tomatoes. They recommend atleast 10 gallon and preferring with the bigger the better when tomatoes are grown in containers and here this guy did it hydropnically in a 5 gallon bucket with a larger production.

This whole thing just made me wonder if i were to take a 5 gallon container and fill it with a good quality well draining potting soil and feed it thrice with a water soluble fertilizer, will I be able to get such a fibrous root structure and such a level of production?

Infact why should I even bother myself with potting soil. i can fill the entire pot with perlite and get it fertigated thrice. Potting soil is required when you want moisture to he held up for more time. If I am going to feed it thrice, perlite is fine. It too can hold a certain amount of moisture which should be sufficient to last between waterings.

Perlite has the added advantage that it is inert and therefore can be used a number of times unlike potting soil which is not recommended to be used for a second time. So I have two cost savings. Lesser quantity of soil and soil which can be used more than once.

What do you think?

This post was edited by saood on Thu, Feb 13, 14 at 6:57

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 6:10AM
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Jay Part Shade (Zone 10B, S21, Los Angeles)

Hey Saood,

You're making it a little more complicated than needed -- what you're talking about is simply outdoor hydroponics. It's done all the time, it's amazing, many commercial veggie growers do this. Google it for far more info than you'd get in a form, people are nuts about it -- DWC, drip, bubble, aero, etc.

The downside of hydro is it's incredibly labor intensive. Yes, you can reuse the perlite/hydroton/etc. multiple times, but you need to constantly water with an automated system, constantly PH correct, constantly fertilize, constantly change out water, etc. Systems run $500+ for just a couple of planters.

The 5-1-1/gritty mix approach is just an alternative to dirt in a pot, not something to compete with hydro. It's cheaper, lasts longer, works better. But if you're going after absolute yield, invest in hydro. But, honestly, if you're growing tomatoes and lettuce, why bother.

Also, if you go containers, look at Root Pouches -- they prune the roots naturally to achieve a much denser/stronger root ball in a container. I only use pouches and the results are awesome.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 10:38AM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

hydroponics doesn't have to be labor intensive. it doesn't have to be automated. it doesn't have to be expensive. Just look at the Kratky system, it is a plastic 4l jug that is filled with solution and a plant in net pot is stuck in the top. When the solution is gone, the plant is harvested. You can use perlite and water 3 times a day or you can use something like gritty mix and water once or twice a day. Calcined clay can be used to increase water retention. If you use an open versus closed system, you never have to test pH. You just make up fresh fertilizer water every time.

Generally speaking, using soil and watering three times a day will result in water logged soil and dead plants. However, knowing where Saood is, his soil is really just sand. Sand has been used for hydroponics, especially if sifted to get a coarse material.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 11:01AM
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saoodhashim

Thanks nil and Jay for your inputs.
Kratky was news for me. Thanks for that.

Nil, just confirming that your are fine with perlite as the medium and watering it thrice a day? It wont get waterlogged? Have I understood you correctly?

And with coarse sand in the USDA z10, that too wont get water logged?

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 2:33PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

It depends on the particle size of both the perlite and the sand. There is very coarse perlite that won't get waterlogged and very fine that will. You could also use gravel. People with more experience with those particular media on the hydroponics forum would be better able your questions. I have used #3 perlite and coarse sand mixed together in a passive wick system for houseplants for years, though I have been moving to gravel because it holds the plants more securely. Y ou can definitely waterlog coarse sand, but it has been used for hydroponics for a long long time. Although I feel most people would recommend a coarser substrate like gravel. The Missouri Gravel Bed mix is quite good and cheap if you can find calcined clay.

The other issue is that if you are watering 3x a day, you really should be thinking about a recirculating system or a way to collect and reuse the water.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 4:51PM
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Natures_Nature(5 OH)

"If you use an open versus closed system, you never have to test pH. You just make up fresh fertilizer water every time."

Why wouldn't you have to test for pH of open hydro systems? Are you assuming the pH of the fertilizer is pre balanced? I understand that it is crucial to maintain proper balance in a closed system, because the nutrients are reused and possible bonds of different nutrients creating a lockout, if you will. So why wouldn't you want to maintain proper balance in a freshly made fertilizer batch? Again, is it because we are assuming the pH of the fertilizer is pre balanced? It seems as if the more control you have, the better, so why not test the pH of open hydro systems? It just doesn't sound right..

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 10:11AM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

yes, that is assuming the fert. gives you a good pH. You can mix it up once and test it with a dip strip to be sure, but after that you are good. But to be honest, that initial test is something everyone should do regardless of hydro or conventional. really it has more to do with the water than the fert in my experience.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 11:02AM
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Natures_Nature(5 OH)

"yes, that is assuming the fert. gives you a good pH. You can mix it up once and test it with a dip strip to be sure, but after that you are good. But to be honest, that initial test is something everyone should do regardless of hydro or conventional. really it has more to do with the water than the fert in my experience."

So im assuming your following the directions of the ferilizer, which means you are probably over fertilzing. I'm pretty sure their was a thread here on gardenweb, unless it was another forum, anyway, the person had a very active detailed thread of measuring the tds of fertilizers at the reccomended rates from the manufacturers. The test showed that even if your are fertilizing half strength, the tds is crazy high, which means you are over feeding. I experienced this myself.

So say you follow the directions and assume it is the proper pH. First of all, you are most likely over fertilizing following the manufacters reccomendations, they want you to use more so you buy more. Second, what if the pH is not in the proper balence? Thrid, How about the rest of the season with temperature fluctuation, that would fluctuate fertilzer levels, etc.

I think that is very bad advice telling others you never have to test for pH with an open hydro system. I would test for pH/tds nearly everytime i fertilizer. With hydroponics, that's basically every time you water, or change the resovior.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2014 at 12:10PM
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